Ward's return doesn't help Canes' offense

RALEIGH, N.C. -- Carolina goaltender Cam Ward didn’t miss a beat. Or, at most, half a beat.

Unfortunately for the veteran goalie, who returned to action Monday night after missing 10 games with a groin tear, his teammates continued a troublesome season-long trend of failing to generate much in the way of offense as Carolina fell by a 4-1 count to the Boston Bruins.

The loss marked the 16th game of the season in which the Hurricanes failed to score more than two goals and was the 11th time in their past 12 games the offense has come up more or less empty, scoring two or fewer goals.

Now, the Hurricanes have done their fair share of winning in spite of the lethargic offense, but it’s not sustainable over the long haul, not with the lineup looking the way it does these days.

Carolina was missing Alexander Semin, who took a huge hit from Alex Pietrangelo in a loss to St. Louis on Saturday, and Jeff Skinner remains out. Toss in the fact Monday’s tilt was the third game in four nights for this group and that's pretty much the story for this team, according to head coach Kirk Muller.

On Monday, the Canes fell behind 2-0 just past the midpoint of the first period, then squandered a lengthy 5-on-3 in the second period, failing to take advantage of an unusually sloppy Bruins team.

The power play, ranked 15th in the Eastern Conference, went 0-for-4 on the night.

“It’d just be nice to have the same guys and roll out all the time and be consistent,” Muller said.

“When you get these injuries, we’re rolling different guys, different trial and error. Eventually we have to capitalize on those chances -- they come back to haunt you."

As for Ward, he was beaten by a power-play goal and a deflection in the first period, but otherwise looked sharp in turning aside 26 of 29 Boston shots. He did look a little out of sorts on the Bruins’ third goal, when he was involved in a collision near the net then saw his stick get tangled up with one of his own players below the goal line. Johnny Boychuk rammed home his first goal of the season when Ward wasn’t looking.

The netminder admitted it’s been mentally taxing fighting through injuries that cost him significant time last year (a torn medial collateral ligament) and now this groin tear.

“It’s tough to evaluate my game when it's my first game back and only my ninth start of the season, and [I] haven’t played a whole lot of hockey when you consider all of last year,” Ward said.

“I know I’ve got to get my game back to where it needs to be. I’d rather look at the positives of tonight rather than the negatives. I hate losing, but in the second and third period I felt a lot better about my game.

“For some reason it’s been a real mental test for myself," Ward added. "I tore my MCL last year on a really freak collision in the net, and to have a tear in my groin this time, when I came into camp in the best shape I can. It’s tough mentally when you’re trying to do what you can to avoid those injuries and they still happen. It’s how you deal with it and how you respond. This injury, I was able to get back a lot quicker than people would have anticipated.”

The loss was the second in a row for the Canes after they’d managed to go 4-0-1 on a recent homestand with Justin Peters more than ably filling in for the injured Ward.

Muller insisted the team isn’t frustrated by its ongoing offensive struggles.

“It wasn’t frustrating last week when we were winning,” Muller said. “It’s what our group is right now. We’re capable of winning some of these low-scoring games. When we lose bodies though, and we had to shorten (the bench) though, we pay for that. When we have 20 guys going and we’re fresh, we’re capable of winning these types of games.”